Posts Tagged‘icloud’

Apple’s iPhone 4S: So-so Hardware, Siri Looks Interesting.

The technology blogosphere has been rampant with speculation about what the next iPhone would be for the last couple months, as it usually is in the ramp up to Apple’s yearly iPhone event. The big question on everyone’s lips has been whether we’d see an iPhone 5 (a generational leap) or something more like a 4S (an incremental improvement on last year’s model). Mere hours ago Apple announced the latest addition to its smart phone line up: the iPhone 4S. Like the 3GS was to the 3G the iPhone 4S is definitely a step up from its predecessor but it retains the same look and feel, leaving the next evolution in the iPhone space to come next year.

If you compared the 4 and the 4S side by side you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between them, since both of them sport the same screen. The difference you’d be able to pick up on is the redesigned antenna which has been done to avoid another antennagate fiasco. The major differences are on the inside with the iPhone 4S sporting a new dual-core A5 processor, 8 megapixel camera capable of 1080p video, and a combined quadband GSM and CDMA radio. Spec wise the iPhone 4S is a definite leap up from the 4, but how does it compare to other handsets that are already available?

My Samsung Galaxy S2 for instance has nearly all the same features as the iPhone 4S and it’s been available for a good 5 months. Except for the screen (which is smaller, but higher resolution) everything on the S2 either matches or exceeds the iPhone 4S and indeed so do a couple other flagship phones. This is typical of Apple however as their development cycles focus much more heavily on the end user experience than the hardware, leaving them to be months behind technologically but quite far ahead in terms of user experience. The hardware isn’t the interesting part of the iPhone 4S release however, that belongs to a little program called Siri.

Siri is a personal digital assistant which is based around interpreting natural language. At it’s heart Siri is a voice command and dictation engine, being able to translate human speech into actions on the iPhone 4S. From the demos I’ve seen on the site it’s capabilities are quite high and varied, being able to do rudimentary things like setting appointments to searching around you for restaurants and sorting them by rating. Unlike other features which have been reto-fitted onto the previous generation Siri will not be making an appearance on anything less than the iPhone 4S thanks to the intensive processing requirements. It’s definitely an impressive feature, but I’m sceptical as to whether this will be the killer app to drive people to upgrade.

Now I was doubtful of how good the voice recognition could really be, I mean if YouTube’s transcribe audio to captions service is anything to go by voice recognition done right is still in the realms of black magic and sorcery. Still there are reports that it works exactly as advertised so Apple might have been able to get it right enough that it passes as usable. The utility of talking into your phone to get it to do something remains in question however as whilst voice commands are always a neat feature to show off for a bit I’ve never met anyone who’s used them consistently. My wife does her darnedest to use the voice command whenever she can but 9 times out of 10 she wastes more time getting it to do the right thing than she would have otherwise. Siri’s voice recognition might be the first step towards making this work, but I’ll believe it when you can use it when in a moving car or when someone else is talking in the room.

Will I be swapping out my S2 for an iPhone 4s? Nope, there’s just nothing compelling enough for me to make the switch although I could see myself being talked into upgrading the wife’s aging 3GS for this newer model. In fact I’d say 3GS and below owners would be the only ones with a truly compelling reason to upgrade unless the idea of talking at your phone is just too good to pass up. So overall I’d say my impression of the 4S is mixed, but that’s really no different from my usual reaction to Apple product launches. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Apple’s WWDC.

Every year around this time the world seems to collectively wet its pants over the announcements that Apple makes at its World Wide Developers Conference, usually because Apple announces their new iPhone model. This time around however there was no new iPhone to speak of but there was still a whole bunch of news that’s sure to delight Apple fans and haters a like. As always I was impressed by some of the innovations and then thoroughly annoyed by the fans reactions, especially those who extrapolated wildly based on ideas and technology that isn’t even out in the wilds yet. I really should have expected as much, but the optimist in me doesn’t seem to want to keel over just yet.

Arguably the biggest announcement of the conference was iCloud, Apple’s new cloud service. With this service 9 of the in built applications will become cloud enabled, storing all their data in the cloud so that it’s accessible from almost anywhere. The majority of them are rudimentary cloud implementations (contacts, pictures, files, etc) but the most notable of the new cloud enabled services will be iTunes. Apart from doing the normal cloud thing of backing your music and letting you play it anywhere, ala Google and Amazon, Apple has decided to go for a completely different angle, and it’s quite an intriguing one.

iTunes will not only allow you to download your purchases unlimited times (finally!) but for the low low price of $24.99/year you can also have iTunes scan your current music folder and then get access to the same tracks in 256Kbps AAC directly from iTunes. Keen readers will recognize this feature as coming from Lala, a company that Apple acquired and seemingly shutdown just over a year ago. It would appear that the technology behind Lala is what powers the new iCloud enabled iTunes and the licensing deals that the company had struck with the music companies before its acquisition have been transferred to Apple. I really like the idea behind this and I’m sure it won’t take long for someone to come up with an entire back catalog of what’s available through iTunes, letting everyone on the service get whatever music they want for the nominal yearly fee. It’s probably a lot better than the alternative for the music companies who up until now were getting $0 from those with, how do you say, questionably acquired music libraries.

Apple also announced the next version of their mobile operating system, iOS5. There are numerous improvements to the platform but there are a few features of note. The first is iMessage which will be Apple’s replacement for SMS. The interface is identical to the current SMS application on the iPhone however if both parties are on iOS devices it will instead send the message over the Internet rather than SMS. Many are quick to call this as the death of SMS and how mobile phone companies will teeter on bankruptcy due to the loss of revenue but realistically it’s just another messaging app and many carriers have been providing unlimited SMS plans for months now, so I doubt it will be anywhere near as revolutionary as people are making it out to be.

The next biggest feature is arguably the deep level of integration that Twitter is getting in iOS. Many of the built in apps now have Twitter on their option menus, allowing you to more easily tweet things like your location or pictures from your photo library. It’s one of the better improvements that Apple has made to iOS in this revision as it was always something I felt was lacking, especially when compared to how long Android had had such features. I’m interested to see if this increases adoption rates for Twitter at all because I find it hard to imagine that everyone who has an iPhone is using Twitter already (anecdotally about 50% of the people I know do, the others couldn’t care less).

There’s also the release of OSX lion which honestly is barely worth mentioning. The list of “features” that the new operating system will have is a mix of improvements to things currently available in Snow Leopard, a couple app reworks and maybe a few actual new things to the operating system. I can see why Apple will only be charging $29.99 for it since there’s really not much to it and as a current owner of Snow Leopard I can’t see any reason to upgrade unless I’m absolutely forced to. The only reason I would, and this would be a rather dickish move by Apple if they required this, would to be able to download incremental updates to programs like Xcode which they’ve finally figured out how to do deltas on so I don’t have to get the whole bloody IDE every time they make a minor change.

Overall this WWDC was your typical Apple affair: nothing revolutionary but they’re bringing out refined technology products for the masses. iCloud is definitely the stand out announcement of the conference and will be a great hook to get people onto the Apple platform for a long time to come in the future. Whilst there might be some disappointment around the lack of a new iPhone this time around it seems to have been more than made up for with the wide swath of changes that iOS5 will be bringing to the table. With all this under consideration it’s becoming obvious that Apple is shifting itself away from the traditional PC platform with Lion getting far less attention than any of Apple’s other products. Whether or not this is because they want to stay true to their “Post PC era” vision or simply because they believe the cash is elsewhere is left as an exercise to the reader, but it’s clear that Apple views the traditional desktop as becoming an antiquated technology.